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CHAPTER NINETEEN

I don't know when Beert left my room. I was under the helmet, obsessively eavesdropping on the many, many unwitting-or sometimes witting-human beings who were wearing the bugs implanted by the Others.

I knew of only six persons who had been bugged and returned to Earth, the five of us in the original batch from Starlab, plus Patrice from the ones who had been in captivity. Now there seemed to be hundreds of them.

So there was no question about it. I had to believe that what Beert said was true. The Others were on Earth-somehow-and going right ahead with their plans. And if I were ever to hope to get back and-somehow-help fight them off, it had to be done quickly.


All the same, I couldn't help peering out at my planet through the eyes of the bugged ones. They came in all varieties. There was a young woman in what I supposed was China, wearing the tracking collar of a house-arrest prisoner, sullenly trampling seedlings into mud with her bare toes, and seeing nothing but the other young women in the paddy and the old man who was dumping more baskets of seedlings at its rim. There was a store clerk in some hot and Spanish-speaking place; a blackjack dealer on what seemed to be a cruise ship, from the gentle rolling of the floor; a dozen or so in prisons. A lot of the bugged ones were in prisons, and a lot of those I took to be Chinese, from the uniforms they wore and the totally incomprehensible language they spoke.

I didn't spend much time with the ones who spoke languages I couldn't understand. There were a fair number of English-speaking ones, and a sizeable number of those were also in some kind of detention. Some, like that first Chinese girl, wore tracking collars as they went glumly about their business. Most were in a cell. Some were being interrogated, and the questioners were getting little joy from the answers they got. Uniformly the bugged ones claimed to have no knowledge of how the little gadgets had been implanted in their skulls.

Once, just once, I saw a face I recognized.

The face belonged to Nat Baumgartner, an NBI agent I had worked with once on the Michigan militia. What Nat was doing was standing in a hospital operating room, looking more worried than any Bureau agent should let himself look in the presence of a prisoner. I was his prisoner. I lay on my back, staring up at the operating-theater lights while someone I couldn't see was doing something with an IV in my arm. I supposed my host was about to undergo surgery, most likely to remove the bug from his brain, but I never found out for sure. Shortly after that, my carrier went unconscious, and that transmission stopped for good.

And all the time that I was looking through the eyes of other people, one part of my mind was scheming what to do about this situation. Make Pirraghiz take me to the transit machine and go. No, first take a quick snatch-and-grab run through Beert's laboratory and collect all the Horch technology I could carry to take back. No, before that, pump him for what he might know about the Horch plans for Earth, if any, and for any guidance he can give about what to do to resist the Beloved Leaders. No-

No, there were too many things to think out, and I couldn't think clearly about them while I was hunting frantically through the files of all those bugged humans. But I couldn't stop doing it, either. The person I was really looking for was Pat.

I was convinced there had to be other files in which she would appear. I picked frantically at the green line in the selectors, but I couldn't find them. Apart from that one glimpse in the Observatory office, she never turned up for me again. By dumb luck I did finally connect again with the woman who had gone to the Observatory to meet Janice DuPage, and watched it all over again for the sake of that one brief glimpse of Pat.

That brief glimpse was all there was. When I watched the file.ill the way through, all that happened was that the woman went to lunch with Janice DuPage. The good part was that I could taste the Caesar salad the woman ordered, but there was nothing else. What they talked about was the cruise Janet had missed, and how it had come to an end when something went wrong with the ship's engines. And after they had left the restaurant and were crossing a street, abruptly and strangely, the transmission ended. I mean, it just stopped. At one moment I was laughing and clutching Janice's arm as we dodged past a stopped truck; I heard Janice scream, and that was it. The next moment I was in total darkness, with no sight or sound or smell at all.

I took the helmet off to puzzle over that for a bit. Something like that had happened before, when the man in the operating room went to sleep. That was anesthesia, I had no doubt. But what kind of person went to sleep in the middle of crossing a New York street?


I had the helmet back on when I felt.1 touch on my shoulder-my real shoulder. When I took the helmet off it was Pirraghiz. She wasn't alone. Standing next to her was a male Doc, reaching out one of his arms in hospitable fashion to shake my hand. "This is my friend Mrrranthoghrow," she told me-as close as I can come to his name, which sounded like a voiceless purr, a coughing sneeze and a yowl at the end. "He came along to help me carry what I needed for you, but he cannot stay this time."

"I hope to see more of you soon," Mrrranthoghrow said politely. I mumbled something back. My mind was still full of what I had seen under the helmet; I hardly noticed when he left again.

Pirraghiz was looking at me curiously. "Are you all right, Dannerman?" she asked. "Are you hungry?"

Once reminded, I was. In fact, I was ravenous. I don't know how long I had been under the helmet, but while I was devouring the food Pirraghiz set before me, I discovered it was dark outside my window. Not inside the room, though; the whole chamber was illuminated with a soft glow, which, I saw, came from the mossy stuff around the doorframe.

I paid it only minimal attention, still thinking-worrying- about what the Others might be doing to my world. Pirraghiz watched in silence. It wasn't until I had swallowed the last of the berry-flavored tomatoish thing that was my dessert that she removed the dishes and said, "It is sleeping time. I will show you how to cover the light, Dannerman. Simply pull these drapes out, so, and cover the light like this, do you see?"

She left one little section uncovered, leaving the room dim. But there was enough light for me to see that she was regarding me with concern. "I will be in the next room, if needed," she said. "The Greatmother has given it to me for as long as you want me here." I grunted. Then she reached down and touched the helmet I had left on the table. "Did Djabeertapritch give you this so you could see what is happening in your home?"

"Oh, yes," I said, sitting on the edge of the bed. "He certainly did."

She sighed. "It is a sad thing, I know. All of you from your planet found it most unpleasant."

That got my attention. "You mean the copies you made of me?

"Yes, often copies of yourself, Dannerman, but also of the others. Some copies of all of you were shown this material at the beginning of their interrogations."

"Copies of Pat?' "Of course. But it was you who were most useful, since you had a broader experience of the world." She paused, looking down at me in the dimness. "This upsets you. But information was wanted, and so what happened was inevitable."

"Inevitable! Making a copy of Pat and killing her was inevitable?"

She looked defensive. "I am sorry. I know this troubles you. The fact that so many bad things are happening to your people troubles me, too." She stopped to consider for a moment, then sighed. "But honestly, Dannerman, it does not trouble me very much. You are not alone. How many sixty-fours of sixty-fours of sixty-fours of sixty-fours of persons have been sent early to the Eschaton in this struggle? And many of them died far more painfully than your Rosaleens and Pats. Here in this nest we have made ourselves look away from such horrors, Dannerman. We could not survive otherwise."


CHAPTER EIGHTEEN | The Far Shore of Time | CHAPTER TWENTY



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